Interview with Elizabeth Barrette, Part 2

Elizabeth Barrette

Thank you for joining me as we continue our conversation with Elizabeth Barrette, Poet and Wordsmith. If you missed part one, you can find it here.

Today, Elizabeth tells us more about her activities in Crowdfunding her poetry, the poets who have been influential in her own writing, recommendations for further poetry reading and the usefulness of publishing your poetry on clay tablets.

Diane Severson for Amazing Stories (AS): You have been inspired to adapt to the new-found freedom of the internet and its capability to bring something to an audience in a way it hasn’t been possible before, namely by Crowdfunding your poetry. How did you develop this method (and you’ve been doing it much longer than Kickstarter has been around – 7 years!) and how does it work for you specifically? Would you recommend it wholesale to other writers/poets?

Elizabeth Barrette (EB): Actually the roots go back a lot farther.  I’ve composed poetry since before I could hold a pencil, and when I was in junior high I started writing a poem a day which I shared with classmates.  That went on for several years.  I also liked the “fishbowl” classroom exercise in which one person would work while others watched and often gave suggestions.  I was rooting for electronic publication since the rise of the internet, and started getting involved in early versions in the mid-1990s.  It was easy for me to see where it was going; I just had to wait for the technology and population to catch up.  So then when some of my friends who had lavish blog audiences started having trouble selling their excellent material to conventional markets, I suggested asking for audience support, and in some cases that went spectacularly well.  In the early 2000s I submitted a lot of material to Sol Magazine, which ran prompted contests that I loved — I was their Poet Laureate for 2003 — and when that dried up I really missed it.  I waited until after I had a book out to start a blog of my own, so it would have an immediate practical use. Composing Magic came out in 2007, and I did the first free version of the Poetry Fishbowl  in November of 2007, to introduce the idea of audience prompts and see how people would respond.  It worked; they liked it and I got plenty of inspiration.  Starting in January 2008, I gave people the option of buying what I wrote.  It grew from there, and if you compare the September session, you can see the changes.

henchmens-hitch-sketch-Elizabeth Barrette
Based on The Henchmen’s Hitch by Elizabeth Barrette

I can find infinite inspiration on my own, but I enjoy getting ideas from other people because that lets me know what interests them.  So I mix and match the prompts I get, add my own ideas, and spin poetry from there.  It’s especially useful in choosing which of the larger ideas to develop further, like the series.  Those were actually a surprise.  I’d written batches of related poetry before — if you look at my Serial Poetry page, the Queen Choufa batch is an example of that — but I was looking at the crowdfunding projects of my friends who did serial fiction and wondering how I could build up that kind of repeating audience support for poetry.  Then people started asking for reappearances of their favorite characters, and that solved the problem quite neatly.  Path of the Paladins is over the 40,000-word threshold for novel size. Polychrome Heroics may be too, but I haven’t compiled that one for counting yet.So that creates a kind of brand loyalty where people ask for the same characters or setting. Some of my regular fans have a profound influence on what gets written and published, how a series and its setting develop — it’s part of the rise of hobby-editing that I’ve seen over the last decade or so, which is really exciting.  I have individuals who have bought far more from me than any one magazine has.  That’s a huge impact, and it’s part of what makes this project work for all of us.

I recommend crowdfunding to creative people in general as an option worth considering.  If you are making what the mainstream likes to buy, then by all means try conventional publication; they have wider distribution.  But a lot of folks want to make quirky things, not another McFantasy.  For those creators, crowdfunding offers a way to connect with people who are underserved by mainstream media.  You can make a niche for yourself quite feasibly if your work is at least capable quality.  It has many advantages, including creative freedom, pricing freedom, control over your own material, socializing, inspiration, and adaptability.  However, it takes a LOT of work to establish a crowdfunding project. Realistically, expect to spend a year on it before you can accurately gauge whether it’s working for you.  Be prepared to do networking, ask for feedback, and make changes to improve things.  From what I’ve seen, most people crowdfunding their creative output can make a decent amount of pocket money.  Those with some favorable combination of aesthetic talent, networking skill, and time to produce are capable of making as much as a part-time or even full-time job.  Webcomics are popular and lucrative; fiction is pretty reliable; poetry has a smaller pool of active participants, but it’s keeping my household afloat, and I know some other poets in crowdfunding who have made more that way than what most magazines pay.  It’s well worth a try.”

AS: I’ve recently seen several novel length books in verse come out. Have you ever considered publishing the linked or related poetry or series (like the Path of the Paladins or Polychrome Heroics) as books?

Fishbowl E Barrette

EB: Yes.  That’s the plan for the poetic series, whenever I finish one.  The only one that’s
actually close to finished is The Origami Mage, which is shorter. Smaller batches might
eventually get bundled together in one collection.  If you look on my Serial Poetry page, The
Clockwork War is complete as it stands.

Audio “SPOON in Every Pot” – Polychrome Heroics

AS: Which poets do you admire? Which have inspired you?

EB: I grew up on Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and J.R.R. Tolkien among others. If you look at my linguistic poetry, form poetry, and humor you’ll see their influence. One of the best descriptions of my poetry was “Heinlein by way of Kipling.”

Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey are notable for weaving lyrics into a narrative, using song to tell a story. Suzette Haden Elgin stands out for narrative poetry, some lyrics, but especially the linguistics. That all shows in my lyric poetry, the serials in general, and the influence of poetry in cultures that I write about.

I love ethnic poets including Joy Harjo, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Langston Hughes, and Robert Hayden. From them I get an appreciation of all my ancestors, the common ground of humanity, and an awareness of cultural differences. Write your own experiences, write about other people, tell ALL the stories.

Historic poets remind us that poetry has been around since about the time humans discovered language. Enheduanna and Sappho are a couple of early favorites. If you want your poetry to live forever, bake some of it into ceramic and toss it into a landfill. Really. Archeologists know to look for garbage dumps, and it’s why we have some of the oldest poetry we do.

AS: LOL, Have you done that? I love that you start with Dr. Seuss as an influence. Many of us grew up with his books. It’s been fun revisiting them with my young son.

EB: I have not actually put my poetry onto ceramic and into a landfill, but that’s for lack of a kiln.  It is absolutely something I would like to do someday.  I’ve considered using plastic baking clay, but I’m unsure how well that would survive in deep time, whereas we have cuneiform tablets of ceramic that have survived thousands of years.  Yes, I think about these things.  I want people to be reading my writing under alien suns eventually, and I’ve written about that too.

AS: That’s also a lovely list of known poets that are worth spending more time with. Now, do you have any recommendations for new poets we should keep our eyes on?

EB: Right now, poetry is thriving in subcultures despite mainstream indifference. Speculative fiction is one branch; Pagan poetry is another; and cyberspace has numerous venues teaming with poetry. So those are some places I watch for new poets. Dreamwidth user Finch does Inspiration Birdcage. Alex Conall also posts poetry on Dreamwidth. LiveJournal user Thesilentpoet does Poetry for the Masses.

AS: Thanks for those recommendations, I haven’t run across those poets before. I can tell you must read a lot of poetry?

EB: Yes. I read a lot of everything, really.

AS: Where do you find it?

EB: Mostly online now. I like the Poetree community on Dreamwidth both for poems and for excellent writing about poetry. The Crowdfunding communities on Dreamwidth and LiveJournal alert me to prompt calls where I can go inspire other poets. I also follow links from the Science Fiction Poetry Association email list, because members often post there about their work when it gets published. SFPA is the most concise and consistent source I’ve found for speculative poetry worth reading.

AS: Do you have subscriptions to print magazines and/or journals? Which ones?

EB: At present, it’s mainly Star*Line. I have found very few poetry magazines worth the cover price. My favorite was the Mid-West Poetry Review, which closed years ago. If you like Pagan and magical poetry, though, Circle Magazine has a substantial poetry section along with nonfiction. I pick that up occasionally.

AS: Are there online magazines you always read?

EB: No.  I’ll go look at specific entries, but that’s about it.  I already spend so much time staring at a screen that I do not need to add more with leisure reading.  I read magazines and books on paper.

AS: You also edit for various magazines (correct?), how do you go about compiling an issue’s poetry offerings?

EB: Previously I selected and edited poetry for SageWoman and PanGaia. Currently I do the line editing for Plunge. Aileen Nichols does the primary acquisition of manuscripts for Plunge, but I do encourage people to submit things. I really enjoy looking for people whose work has a distinctive voice. This is a fairly new magazine, so the competition isn’t as high as some other places; it’s a good market if you write the “queer-women-genre” stuff we want.

Whenever I’m looking to assemble a batch of poetry, I go through similar steps: 1) Tell people what I want. I make sure that guidelines are clear and complete. Sometimes I post general submission calls in places frequented by the kind of people I want to reach. 2) Issue specific invitations to poets I think would be especially suited for it. I try to build up a pool of regular writers, although I’m always open to new folks. If I see someone whose work I like, I’ll encourage them to submit. 3) Read the submissions. 4) Sort out all the crud. 5) Count what’s left and compare it to my target size. 6) Either reduce the pile if it’s too big, or hustle for more poems if there aren’t enough. 7) Send acceptance and rejection notices. 8) Edit the accepted work. I tend to touch poetry very lightly compared to fiction; if it’s going to take a lot of tinkering, I usually reject it. Little things like typos or punctuation errors I can fix. 9) Put poems in a pleasant reading order, write an intro if needed, and send it for formatting.

AS: What do you expect from the poetry submitted to you?

EB: Well, there’s a difference between what I’d like to get, and what I actually anticipate seeing. What I’d like: 1) The poet has read the guidelines and otherwise acts like a professional or dedicated hobbyist. 2) The poem is on topic and legibly written. Major violations of these first two points get a rejection slip. 3) Now I can consider the content and quality of the remaining poems. I am looking for a good storyline, engaging characters, charming aesthetics, luscious mouthfeel, and technical skill.

AS: That’s the second time you’ve used the word “mouthfeel”. Do you make a habit of reading poetry out loud? How important to you is how a poem sounds when recited? Are there certain types of poetry for which you find that aspect more or less imperative? Do you ever record your own poetry?

EB: I’m somewhat synaesthetic; my senses overlap.  So to me, a poem has texture and flavor as well as sound.  ‘Mouthfeel’ is a term from food science about the tactile sensation and chemical reaction of what you eat that makes it enjoyable.  A poem should feel good as well as sound good when you read it aloud.  I do read poems aloud, because that’s the best way to make sure I’m not accidentally writing tongue-twisters, and to check for aesthetic appeal in that mode.  I’m more intent about the audio characteristics of form poetry than free verse, and most of all with rhymed and metered verse.  Some of my poetry is primarily meant for written format, but a few pieces are truly intended as wordplay and rely on sound for their charm.  “WaterSounds” is my favorite example for that, but “The Ballad of Zaavan’s Revenge” is another great choice that was patterned after folk ballads.  On the other hoof I’ve written some poems that depend entirely on the visual presentation and could not be read clearly if at all.

I don’t record my own poetry, or perform it live, because I can never get my voice up to my own standards of quality.  I’ve become reluctant to attend live readings because I’ve been harassed about that repeatedly.  However, I’m happy to have other people record or recite my poems, because that puts my poetry into a new format that may reach a different audience.  Some truly impressive recordings have come out of that.

AS: And speaking of which I will leave you, dear readers, with Scott Maitland (LiveJournal user book_worm5) and a wonderful performance of “The Ballad of Zaavan’s Revenge” (from A Conflagration of Dragons series) by Elizabeth Barrette.

Audio – The Ballad of Zaavan’s Revenge (performed by Scott Maitland)

Thank you, Elizabeth, for this most enlightening and interesting interview!

* * *

Next week we return to our regularly scheduled programming (a poetry collection review)! Join me?

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